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This blog reflects on soccer qua football all over the world. The blog has a specific investment in attractive, attacking football and, as such, focuses on Brazil, the most emphatic historical exponent of the beautiful game.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Brazil Defeats Argentina 2-0 in Superclasico

Brazil won the Superclasico against Argentina 2-0 thanks to goals by Lucas Moura and Neymar in a sparkling performance that handed embattled coach Mano Menezes a much needed victory. The Selecao played typical samba football while maintaining control over the run of play from all inches of the field. True to their samba roots, Brazil avoided any kind of rigid formation. The offensive quintet of Ronaldinho, Lucas Moura, Neymar and Borges meandered all over the field. Lucas Moura, in particular, impressed with exceptional speed, dribbling ability, positional awareness, vision and balance.

In the 54th minute, Brazil opened the scoring on the counter-attack from an elegant through ball from left back Bruno Cortes, to Borges, to Danilo and finally through to the onrushing Lucas. Lucas latched onto the ball, got away from his defender and delivered a clinical finish past the goalkeeper’s right hand to give Brazil a 1-0 lead. Twenty minutes later, Bruno Cortes joined the attack once again, this time bursting forward from his left back position and slipping the ball to substitute Diego Souza, who in turn found Neymar in the box. Neymar hustled the ball past the goal line in the 75th minute to make it 2-0.

Brazil gave their home fans a lively performance that affirmed Mano Menezes’s investment in testing less experienced players in high profile friendlies. Lucas Moura da Silva was by far the man of the match and may well emerge as a contender to replace Paulo Henrique Ganso in the center of Brazil’s attacking midfield given Ganso’s spate of injuries and disappointing form at the international level. Brazil dominated the match from the outset and imposed their style of play without appearing predictable or decipherable in any way. Neymar played on both flanks while Borges took the brunt of stern Argentine defending near the box. Ronaldinho played deep in midfield and had a quiet game, save for his influence in calming the team and giving his young squad the confidence to play as team captain. Fans should expect more appearances from Lucas Moura, Bruno Cortes and Danilo in upcoming friendlies.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Ronaldinho and Damiao Shine As Brazil Defeat Ghana 1-0

Brazil defeated Ghana 1-0 on Monday at Craven Cottage from a goal by Leandro Damiao, the young Internacional striker in the hottest of form. Although billed as a friendly, the match represented a fierce competition between the South American giants and the 2010 World Cup quarterfinalists, beginning with end to end soccer from both teams that transitioned to a one sided attack by Brazil after Ghana’s Daniel Opare was ejected for a questionable second yellow card in the 33rd minute. The friendly featured a total of 8 yellow cards, two for Brazil, and six for Ghana.

Brazil coach Mano Menezes started with three strikers in the form of Ronaldinho, Leandro Damiao and Neymar. The three strikers played in front of Fernandinho and Elias, who in turn played in front of Lucas Leiva in his traditional defensive midfield position. The other notable addition to his squad was Marcelo in the left back position, starting in lieu of Andre Santos.

Ronaldinho’s return to the Brazilian national team after a ten month absence did wonders for the Selecao as the 2002 World Cup winner added a much needed dose of experience and leadership to the Brazilian front line. Dinho curled in dangerous corners throughout the match and at least a couple of his free kicks almost found the back of the net had it not been for some spectacular goalkeeping by the Ghanaian goalkeeper Kwarasey. Neymar posed problems for the Ghanaian defense by popping up on both the left and right flanks and dribbling from a wide position toward the center of the field.

Leandro Damiao appeared to open the scoring in the 26th minute from an assist by Neymar, but he was rightly deemed offside. Just before half time, the Internacional hit man struck again by latching onto a magnificent through ball from Fernandinho and then dispatching it to the keeper’s right with clinical precision. In the second half, Mano opted to up the ante of his team’s attack by substituting Fernandinho for Hulk, effectively playing four strikers.

Hulk added spice to the attack on the right flank by combining deftly with Elias and Dani Alves but Brazil struggled to break down a Ghanaian team that had gone into a defensive shell after Opare’s ejection. Mano substituted Pato for Damiao late in the match to vary Brazil’s attack further, and the move almost paid dividends when Ronaldinho whipped in a curling ball that Pato headed onto goal only to encounter another remarkable save from Kwarasey in the 85th minute.

Overall, this was a highly encouraging match for Brazil and a disappointing performance by Ghana. The match began with Ghana threatening the Brazilian goal from both flanks but the Black Stars decided to limit the damage after going down to 10 men rather than finding a way to score an equalizer. On Brazil’s side, the match illustrated the enduring brilliance of Ronaldinho, Marcelo’s versatility as a left back, Leandro Damiao’s imposing presence in the box and the mouthwatering potential of a 4-1-2-3 formation. Mano continues to surprise as coach of the Brazilian national team with his squad selections, starting line-ups and substitutions. Brazil now face Argentina in their next international friendly on September 14.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Robinho's Absence From Ghana Friendly Throws Stars Wide Open For Brazil Formation

Robinho will miss Brazil's friendly against Ghana on September 5 due to a groin injury. The injury to the AC Milan striker sets up a constellation of mouthwatering formations for Mano Menezes and the Selecao. Given Robinho's absence, Mano may decide to play a 4-2-2-2 instead of a 4-2-1-3, with Ganso and Ronaldinho behind Neymar and Pato. Another option would be for Mano to stay with his favored 4-2-1-3 formation by dropping Ganso from the starting line-up, and playing Ronaldinho behind Neymar, Hulk and Pato or Neymar, Leandro Damiao and Pato. Alternatively, Mano could retain Ganso in midfield and push Ronaldinho into the center forward position between Neymar and Pato or Neymar and Hulk. A three pronged attack of Neymar, Ronaldinho and Hulk would keep Hulk in the right winger position that he plays at FC Porto.

Here's a summary of the Brazil line-up options, where AMF refers to attacking midfielder and F stands for Forward:

4-2-2-2 formation:

(1) Ganso (AMF), Ronaldinho (AMF), Neymar (F), Pato (F)

4-2-1-3 formation:

(2) Ronaldinho (AMF), Neymar (F), Hulk (F), Pato (F)
(3) Ronaldinho (AMF), Neymar (F), Damiao (F), Pato (F)
(4) Ganso (AMF), Neymar (F), Ronaldinho (F), Hulk (F)
(5) Ganso (AMF), Neymar (F), Ronaldinho (F), Pato (F)

Ronaldinho has been in blistering form for Flamengo of late, scoring goals most recently against Avai, Internacional and Atletico PR. That said, the web is buzzing about Ganso's one touch strike against Sao Paulo this week, in which the youngster played a one two with Alan Kardec to send a sublime left footed rocket into the roof of the net. Add to all this Leandro Damiao's sensational form for Internacional and The Hulk's hunger for a place in the Brazil starting line-up, and it's easy to see how Mano faces a tough set of choices against an attack oriented Ghana team. Ghana's Black Stars may be without striker Asamoah Gyan due to a thigh injury suffered in Friday's Africa Cup of Nations Qualifier against Swaziland.